Sweeping some of the BS out of the RMA

Phil Page

March 2018. . . In the last year of its third term the National coalition government passed the Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017.  That Act amends various Acts that deal with processes around access to natural resources.  In particular, it addresses the (then) government’s frustration with overly bureaucratic decision making by local authorities holding up bringing new housing to the market.

Resource consent data collected by the Ministry for the Environment from Councils showed that a large proportion (in numbers terms) of resource consents relate to mundane things like garages within road boundary setbacks where nobody can sensibly say they are adversely affected by the non-compliance.  Yet thousands of dollars and weeks of delay are spent obtaining consents for things that hardly anyone cares about.  One of the additions to the Resource Management Act that came into force on 18th of October 2017 was section 87BB – “Activities meeting certain requirements are permitted activities”.  Section 87BB is a novel approach to regulatory non-compliance.  What it does is allow a council to treat as a permitted activity (i.e. does not require a resource consent) some things that only have a “marginal or temporary non-compliance” with the rules of a District or Regional Plan. 

So what section 87BB does is allow (but does not require) a Council to effectively ignore a rule non-compliance where:

  1. The non-compliance is marginal or temporary; and
  2. The environmental effects are no different than if there was compliance; and
  3. The adverse effects on persons are less than minor.

If a council is satisfied about all of those three things then they can decide to treat something as a permitted activity and that no resource consent is required. 

Although section 87BB was intended to allow Councils to dispense with the need for resource consents for mundane minor things as parts of new development (facilitating new house building being a key issue), there is no reason why the section cannot be used to declare an existing minor non-compliance “permitted” retrospectively.  Often compliance issues only come to the surface when a purchaser does due diligence on a property and things come to light that even the vendor didn’t know (or care) about.  Yet for banking, insurance, or other reasons a purchaser needs to deal with it before confirming a contract.  Section 87BB might well be a useful tool for dealing quickly with compliance situations without having to go through a resource consent process.

Feel free to contact us for more information.